‘We are hip hop’ says award winning Indigenous producer, engineer

He has mixed songs for Drake, Method Man, Redman and many more but David Strickland says he just assumes nobody knows who he is.

For more than a generation, Strickland has been helping hone the Toronto sound, even before it became the OVO Sound under Drake’s reign.

Over the years, Strickland has worked with many of the biggest names in the Toronto hip hop scene – artists like Maestro, Choclair and Kardinal Offishall.

Strickland’s friendship with Noah James Shebib, better known as 40, led to him working on Drake’s first album.

Over the course of Drake’s first three albums, Strickland helped mix numerous songs that feature artists like Jay Z and the Dream.

“When you look at it now, I mean yeah, he’s one of the top artists of all time and that just blows my mind. I’m very honoured and blessed that I was even able to participate because I’m always doing records, I’m always doing four or five things at time so lucky I got to jump on that wave,” says Strickland.

“I’m part of the Def Squad and I was already doing records for years with the likes of guys like Redman, Eric Sermon, Method Man, Keith Murray and done songs with so many legends in my mind that I was prepared.

Strickland says working on the Drake records was just another day at the office.

“We had a lot of fun doing those records. A lot of times, you don’t get a situation that’s perfect, a perfect storm and Drake got a perfect storm.”

One of the reasons the Grammy and Juno award winning producer and engineer feels nobody knows who he is might be because he’s been ‘hiding in a studio’ since the age of 17.

Strickland started DJ’ing in Toronto when he was in radio broadcasting school and that’s when he fell in love with the studio and the equipment.

Growing up in Scarborough was not easy. Strickland says he lost a lot of friends and considers himself lucky to have gotten out alive and make a name for himself.

Over the past decade, Strickland has been on more of an inward journey.

He has family roots run generations back to the East Coast along Mi’kmaq, Innu and Beothuk lines.

He credits Ernie Paniccioli, a Cree, Native American photographer for taking him to a more spiritual, traditional place.

One of those teachings kicks off Strickland’s 2020 album Spirit of Hip Hop.

“Hip hop to me, is essentially Native culture,” says Paniccioli.

“The DJ is the drum, the MC is the storyteller, the B-Boy is the dancer, the graffiti artist is the sand painter,” says Paniccioli on the album’s opening track.

Strickland says Indigenous people have been doing this for thousands of years.

“There’s so much talent in our communities and that’s one of the reasons I did this album was to showcase how much talent we do have. Not that the scene needed my help because there’s so much talent and everybody’s doing it on there own but I thought I brought something to the table.

“Hip hop is inclusive and we keep calling it Indigenous hip hop or native hip hop but it’s just hip hop at the end of the day and that’s the message that we’re trying to spread,” says Strickland.

“We gotta stop putting ourselves outside of hip hop and put ourselves into hip hop because we are hip hop.”

Spirit Of Hip-Hop includes Indigenous rappers from across North America, such as Supaman, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Artson, Que Rock, Drezus, Leonard Sumner and Joey Stylez.

A remixed version of the album is being released on November 20.

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